d. November 30, 1998
Simon Tseko Nkoli was an anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS activist in South Africa. By coming out as gay while a political prisoner, he helped to make the African National Congress more supportive of gay rights. Later, GLOW (a gay activist group he founded) was instrumental in having LGBT protection written into the state constitution.
Nkoli was born in Soweto in a seSotho-speaking family. He grew up on a farm in the Free State and his family later moved to Sebokeng. Nkoli became a youth activist against apartheid, with the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and with the United Democratic Front.
In 1983, he joined the mainly white Gay Association of South Africa, then he formed the Saturday Group, the first black gay group in Africa.
Nkoli spoke at rallies in support of rent-boycotts in the Vaal townships and in 1984 he was arrested and faced the death penalty for treason with twenty-one other political leaders in the Delmas Treason Trial, including Popo Molefe and Patrick Lekota, collectively known as the Delmas 22. By coming out while a prisoner, he helped change the attitude of the African National Congress to gay rights. He was acquitted and released from prison in 1988.
He founded GLOW (tthe Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand) in 1988. After the start of South Africa's transition to democracy in 1994, GLOW's advocacy and credibility within the African National Congress were crucially important in getting ANC backing for LGBT rights. This led to the inclusion of sexual orientation in the anti-dscrimination clause in the bill of rights that was written into the new constitution. This was the first country to provide constitutional protection for lesbians and gay men.
Nkoli travelled widely and was given several human rights awards in Europe and North America. He was a member of International Lesbian and Gay Association board, representing the African region.
He was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994. He helped in the campaign for the inclusion of protection from discrimination in the Bill of Rights in the 1994 South African constitution and for the repeal of the sodomy law, which happened in May 1998 in his last months.
After becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men, he initiated the Positive African Men group based in central Johannesburg. He had been infected with HIV for around 12 years, and had been seriously ill, on and off, for the last four. He died of AIDS in 1998 in Johannesburg.
There is a Simon Nkoli Street in Amsterdam and a Simon Nkoli Day in San Francisco. He opened the first Gay Games in New York and was made a freeman of that city by mayor David Dinkins. In 1996 Nkoli was given the Stonewall Award in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Canadian filmmaker John Greyson made a short film about Nkoli titled A Moffie Called Simon in 1987. Nkoli was the subject of Robert Colman's 2003 play, "Your Loving Simon" and Beverley Ditsie's 2002 film "Simon & I". John Greyson's 2009 film Fig Trees, a hybrid documentary/opera includes reference to Nkoli's activism.